Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Carol [2015]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB ()  ChicagoTribune (4 Stars) (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (A-)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars w. parental advisement / warning)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (S. O'Malley) review
AVClub (M. D'Angelo) review  

Perhaps the most important thing to know about Carol [2015] (directed by Todd Haynes, screenplay by Phyllis Nagy), aside from (1) it being an appropriately R-rated film (there is some nudity in the film and it is a lesbian love story after all, if by now a _quite classic_ even _somewhat dated_ one, so parents of teens would want to know that and have some discretion / control over whether or not / how to let their older teens to see it) and (2) the film being quite good / excellent, is that (3) it is based on a novel, The Price of Salt (1952) [GR] [WCat] [Amzn], by Patricia Highsmith [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb].

Now why should it be significant that the film is based on a novel by this particular novelist?  Well, Patricia Highsmith [wikip] was (1) a fairly significant / compelling American writer of the 1950s with _many_ of her works adapted for the screen, including two iconic films Strangers on a Train [1951] the classic suspense thriller by Alfred Hitchock, and the already homosexually themed The Talented Mr. Ripley [1999] starring Matt Damon in the title role, and (2) while briefly (and quite unhappily) married (to a man), Patricia Highsmith was a Lesbian.

To some extent, that brief and unhappy marriage (to a man) was the inspiration for the story recounted in her novel, The Price of Salt (1952) [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] adapted for the screen here under the title Carol [2015] who was the story's central character.  Basically fair is fair.  Various works by Highsmith have been previously adapted to the screen, SO _why not_ the work which MOST CLOSELY EXPRESSED who SHE ACTUALLY WAS?  A Lesbian.

And so it is, set in the early 1950s, this film is about a divorcing late-30 / early 40-something socialite named Carol Aird (played in the film excellently / quite credibly for the time by Cate Blanchett) living in upper middle-class suburban New Jersey, who after a chance exchange in a Manhattan department store with a much younger, still starry-eyed / learning-to-make-her-way-in-the-world early 20-something clerk at the cash register named Therese Belive(t / k) (played quite wonderfully / credibly by Rooney Mara) have an affair together.

Why?  /  How?  Well ... Carol's marriage to Harge Aird (played in the film again quite well by Kyle Chandler) was falling apart _precisely_ because SHE WAS NOT INTERESTED IN HIM.  It was _not_ as if she HASN'T TRIED (they had a young daughter played in the film by Seidy and Kk Heim) But SHE'S A LESBIAN.  And Therese (the confusion about the last letter of her last name stemming from the fact that she was of Czech descent where her last name would have ended with a "k" but American immigration officials presumably first heard it as if the last name were French and thus ended name with a "t" -- Readers note here that _I'm_ of Czech descent ;-) ALSO had a boyfriend, Richard (played by Jack Lacy).  BUT THERESE WAS _ALSO_ FINDING that SHE WAS NOT PARTICULARLY ATTRACTED TO HIM EITHER.  She still didn't really understand WHY she was not particularly attracted to him (or to other men for that matter) but she did find Carol to be interesting / increasingly attractive.

And so there it is, and it so happens that the two Carol and Therese take together one of the _saddest_ roadtrips in American cinematic / folk history -- from New York "west" toward Chicago, ending up in Iowa, "in the winter" / "during Christmas time," during which, obviously "much ensues."

A couple of observations to make here:

(1) No matter what one may think of homosexuality / lesbianism (and let's face it, I'm writing this as a Catholic blog, so a fair number of Readers here will be doing so continuing to believe that as per continuing Church Teaching homosexuality is "an intrinsically disordered condition") THE STORY HERE, originally written by a woman, Patricia Highsmith, who was a lesbian who _even tried to become straight_ (and _failed_ / _gave up_) is about TWO WOMEN WHO JUST _WEREN'T_ INTO MEN.  IT IS WHAT IT IS ... data / experience _do count_ even in theological reflection ...

(2) By today's standards, A BIGGER ISSUE with regards to the relationship between Carol and Therese would not be its homosexual/lesbian nature BUT THE AGE DIFFERENCE.  Let's face it, a story about a significantly older man (in his 40s) "awakening the sexual desires" of a "naive 20 year old woman" WOULD BE ROUNDLY CONDEMNED AS BEING _VERY CREEPY_.  So why would it be somehow "okay" for a 40-ish woman to arguably _groom_ a naivish 20-something woman into a lesbian affair?  Again, I'd think "fair is fair" and if one kind of relationship is to be taken as INHERENTLY CREEPY and arguably ABUSIVE that the other kind would be considered inherently creepy / arguably abusive as well.

And (3) an observation about the "very sad road trip" from New York, past Chicago toward Iowa IN THE WINTER.  This is the THIRD TIME in almost as many years, that I've seen a similar 50s-era road trip being made -- On The Road [2012] (the film adaptation of Jack Karouak's 1950s-era classic); Inside Llewyn Davis [2013] (by today's Coen Brothers) and now the current film (based on a novel written by a Karouak contemporary...).  I would have TO ASK the question, WHY?

In part, no doubt, there's a dramatic consideration, certainly in the case of Inside Llewyn Davis [2013] and the current film, where in both cases, the "road trip" is _intentionally_ presented as "a sad one" (taking place in a _cold, seemingly uncaring / hostile world_).

HOWEVER, I'd also suggest that THIS WAS SIMPLY THE REALITY BEFORE THE 1960s CIVIL RIGHTS ERA.  Northerners, generally DIDN'T LIKE "GOING SOUTH" (or if they went, they went STRAIGHT TO FLORIDA - Miami / Key West and on to Havana) PRECISELY BECAUSE of a NORTHERN DISCOMFORT WITH THE DEEP SOUTH'S THEN ENTRENCHED _RACISM_ / GENERALIZED CLOSED-MINDED BIGOTRY.  Indeed, in the case of the story here, one would suppose that NOTHING (but pain...) _could possibly await_ a 1950s era lesbian couple "heading South" ... so AS (physically and even emotionally) COLD AS IT WAS IN THE NORTH, it was arguably BETTER than "down south." 

Anyway, I found the film fascinating and challenging throughout and one that certainly college aged and above audiences would appreciate and find much, much to talk about afterwards.  Good job!

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